Historical Context and Legal Basis of Rizal Day and Other Memorials in Honor of Jose Rizal

Historical Context and Legal Basis of Rizal Day and Other Memorials in honor of Jose Rizal For over a century now, the nation has never failed to observe the anniversary of the martyrdom our great national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. This year, the President will lead the simultaneous raising of Philippine flag at half-mast and wreath offering at the monument of Jose Rizal at the Rizal Park in Manila, Calamba, Laguna and in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte on December 30, 2010. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Rizal: Haligi ng Bayan”.

Although frequently at the center of controversies and criticism of the public, the government must be given credits for its efforts in ensuring that the memory of Rizal stays in our hearts through the issuance of legislative acts, decrees and other proclamations honoring him. Two years after the execution of Rizal in Bagumbayan, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo issued on Dec. 20, 1898 a decree designating Dec. 30 as the anniversary of Jose Rizal’s death and also as “a national day of mourning” for Rizal and other victims of the Spanish government throughout its three centuries of oppressive rule.

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He made a directive that all national flags shall be hoisted at half-mast from 12 noon on Dec. 29 and all offices of the government shall be closed the whole day on December 30 as a sign of mourning. On December 30, 1898, Filipinos celebrated Rizal Day for the first time and chose Club Filipino in Manila to be the venue. The Americans, to win the sympathy of the Filipinos, and to convince them that they were pro-Filipinos more than the Spaniards, gave Rizal official recognition. This was to make them conform to the new government.

Rizal acquired the official title of title of Philippine National Hero in 1901 under the country’s first American civil governor, William Howard Taft. On the recommendation of Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, the Taft Commission renamed the district of Morong into the Province of Rizal through Act 137 on June 11, 1901. This was one of the first official steps taken by the Taft Commission to honor Rizal. Since then, Jose Rizal came to be known as the National Hero. It was also during the American times that Rizal’s death anniversary was made an official holiday.

On February 1, 1902, the Philippine Commission enacted Act. No. 345 which set December 30 of each year as Rizal Day, and made it one of the ten official holidays of the Philippines. As the nationalist spirit of the Filipinos was at the highest point during that time, they were able to convince the government to erect a monument for Rizal. Thus, Act No. 243 was enacted on September 28, 1901 granting the right to use public land upon the Luneta in the City of Manila upon which to erect a statue of Jose Rizal.

So important was the observation of Rizal Day that President Quirino approved on June 9, 1948 Republic Act No. 229 which prohibits cockfighting, horse racing and jai-alai every 30th of December of each year, in order to have proper observance of Rizal Day. To give ample time to prepare for the birth centenary of Jose Rizal in 1961, the Rizal National Centennial Commission was created by Executive Order No. 52, issued by Pres. Ramon Magsaysay on August 10, 1954 to undertake the construction of a National Cultural Shrine and other memorials to be dedicated to Jose Rizal.

JRNCC became Rizal Presidential Committee on 1 July 1962 after President Diosdado Macapagal issued Executive Order No. 14. Jose Rizal’s vast role in the attainment of the nation’s freedom led to the issuance of Republic Act 1425 on June 12, 1956. Commonly known as the Rizal Act, it was sponsored by Senator Claro M. Recto. It requires the curricula of private and public schools, colleges and universities courses to include the life, works and writings of Jose Rizal, particularly his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in order to educate the students about the concept of nationalism.

A few days before the celebration of the birth centenary of Jose Rizal in 1961, Pres. Garcia issued Executive Order No. 429 on June 2, creating a decoration intended to perpetuate Rizal’s memory, to be known as the Rizal Pro Patria Award. It was to be awarded by the President of the Philippines to those who have rendered outstanding work for the benefit of their community. Among the recipients of this decoration in the past were N. V. M. Gonzalez, Alejandro Roces, Juan Nakpil, Felipe Padilla De Leon, and Wilfredo Ma. Guerero.

In Manila streets were named with reference to the national hero, Jose Rizal. In Sampaloc, two streets are named after his pen names, Laong Laan and Dimasalang. Blumentritt, a main thoroughfare, was named after Dr. Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal’s friend, while Dapitan street situated near the University of Santo Tomas was named after a municipality in Zamboanga del Norte, where Rizal was deported in 1892. Other street names have references to Rizal’s novels such as Sisa, Basilio, and Simoun. Rizal monuments are concrete memorials to his legacy.

The most prominent is the Rizal monument in Manila, unveiled on December 30, 1913 in line with the 17th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Jose Rizal. However, the Rizal monument in the town Daet in Camarines Norte holds the distinction of the first ever erected in honor of Rizal. In the 1920s, Rizal Day was very popular and a much awaited event with the entire city going to Luneta to spot the parade of the Rizal Day, a parade as glamorous as the carnival parade of February. In his memorable Rizal Day address, Pres. Quezon declared through Commonwealth Act No. 84 the adoption of Tagalog as the basis of the national language of the Philippines on December 30, 1937. The Rizal Day celebration of December 30, 1942 required the display of Japanese flags in Filipino homes. Attended by Jorge Vargas Benigno Aquino, Sr, and Jose P. Laurel, Sr. , a Nippongo program on Rizal was held in 1942, during which the hero’s “Ultimo Adios” was recited in Japanese. This event also witnessed the inauguration of Kalibapi. Just after the war in 1946, the country saw floral offerings and a civic parade in observance of Rizal Day in 1946.

President Roxas was joined by high officials of the national government and representatives of the United States Army and Navy and foreign nations who offered wreaths at the foot of Rizal’s monument. On December 30, 1950, all Philippine flags throughout the island were raised at half-mast in all public buildings and vessels to commemorate the martyrdom of Rizal. There was also floral offering at the Rizal monument at Luneta and concert in the afternoon. A crowd estimated to be from 300-500, 000 persons gathered at the Luneta on December 30, 1953 to attend the inauguration of Ramon Magsaysay as president of the Republic of the Philippines.

The Constitution had made the Rizal Day event even more memorable having specified the date of the day for the inauguration of President of the Republic as stipulated in Sec. 4 of Article VII of the 1935 Constitution. However, this was moved to June 30 by virtue of the 1987 Constitution which is being observed until now. December 30, 1996 was the centenary of the martyrdom of Rizal. Highlights included the tracing of the last walk of Rizal from his detention cell at Fort Santiago followed by the reenactment of the hero’s execution and flag raising at Luneta Park, Manila.

A monument of Rizal was also inaugurated on 5 December 1996 along the Avenida de Las Islas Filipinas in Madrid, Spain. Rizal Day is a day of appreciating Jose Rizal as a hero, an icon and a perfect example on how to be a Filipino. To quote the late Sen. Blas Ople, “Jose Rizal remains the supreme hero of the Philippines because of the quality of his sacrifice, his absolute dedication to the interest of his people, and his achievement in many fields of endeavors”. | Rizal’s timeless challenge – To Serve the Nation

In these times of unprecedented exodus abroad of youth searching for jobs or the fulfillment of their dreams; of public servants going back on their oath of honest service, in exchange for the returns of Mammon; of activists who continue to disappear and die in the course of their mission to change society for the least of that society; or of the rare Filipino who risks his own life and family if only to serve the cause of truth- it would be fitting to remember Rizal’s timeless call to all patriots of past, present and future as a gauge of our own place and worth as Filipinos at this point in our history.

It may be said that Rizal’s foremost mission in life had been determined for him by fate- and early in his life. In 1872 Fathers Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomes and Jacinto Zamora, priests whose names were identified with the movement to reform the priesthood, and the Catholic Church itself, in the Philippines, were executed on the ground of inciting the Mutiny of Cavite. That execution proved to be Rizal’s political epiphany, the beginning of his coming of age as a Filipino aware of being part of one nation.

It was to culminate in full fruition at his death more than 20 years later, but by then a generation of his fellow natives had been molded, by his life’s work, into Filipinos with a sense of nation. The generation into which Rizal was born was the generation that up till then produced the greatest of Filipino youth. It grew up in the worst and best of times, a time of upheaval, and revolution and sacrifice, the call to which Rizal and his fellow youth had unhesitatingly, and without looking back, answered. Among them, however, Rizal and Marcelo H. el Pilar, a fellow Propagandist, stood out for their determination. Del Pilar had left homeland, wife and two daughters to wage his political struggle in Spain. He would die there. Rizal was driven by one thing and one thing only: to serve the nation. He spoke of it a year after he left his homeland for studies in Spain:  “In my heart I have suppressed all loves, except that of my native land; in my mind I have erased all ideas which do not signify her progress; and my lips have forgotten the names of the native races in the Philippines in order not to ay more than Filipinos. ”  Rizal’s chief aim was to reform Philippine society, first by uncovering its ills and second, by awakening the Filipino youth. His enemies were the oppressive colonial government, but especially the corrupt elements among the friars, members of the religious orders that exerted the greatest influence over the government and thereby held complete sway over the lives of the Filipinos. Rizal knew the best way to awaken the youth and lead them toward right action was through education, but especially foreign education.

For local education, being controlled by the friars then kept the Filipinos in the dark, ignorant of their rights and heritage- and meek in the face of oppression. This was partly why he left for Spain in 1882, to continue his studies there. Championing the cause of the nation for him entailed becoming the best person he could be. He carried over to his activism the mental and physical disciplines he learned from his elders.

His capacity for self-denial had developed to such a degree that enabled him -when he was short on funds abroad- to breakfast on a few biscuits for days on end; to take exams on an empty stomach or go for hours without food; to burn the candle at both ends studying his lessons or learning a new language; to steel himself from falling into the trap of drinking and gambling, which had waylaid many of his compatriots from their mission; to retain his empathy for the downtrodden as when moved upon encountering a child begging in the streets of Madrid, perhaps reminding him of the child beggars back home.

He plunged himself into the thick of the Propaganda, a movement that agitated for government reforms in the Philippines, foremost of which was Filipinos’ assimilation in the Spanish nation through representation in the Cortes (Spanish Parliament). He waged his campaign among progressive members of the Cortes and Spanish intellectuals; he wrote letters and articles for La Solidaridad, the Propaganda mouthpiece, as well as other publications, producing some of his best work during this period such s “The Indolence of the Filipinos”; “Message to the Women of Malolos”, or “The Philippines a Century Hence”. Despite his deprivations, he continued to push himself to serve his nation’s cause finally producing his greatest work, the novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, works that paved his way to an untimely death but also to a lasting place in the hearts and minds of his compatriots.

Of his vision for the Filipinos, Rizal wrote his comrade Mariano Ponce in 1888:  “Let this be our only motto: For the welfare of the Native Land. On the day when all Filipinos should think like him [Del Pilar] and like us, on that day we shall have fulfilled our arduous mission, which is the formation of the Filipino nation”. To Rizal that nation was a nation free of injustice, oppression and corruption. May the Filipinos of today finally begin fulfilling this timeless challenge of Rizal.

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